Michael Bugeja

Online Coin Auctions

Michael Bugeja

Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood, is a professor at Iowa State University and also a former member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. He is a nationally known author, journalist and educator.

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Beware of claims in Internet auctions

Internet portals eBay and Proxibid have adopted rules for coins and currency meant to discourage hyped claims by auctioneers and sellers, but some know how to honor those rules and still post overly optimistic lot descriptions.

Last year Proxibid adopted service terms based on eBay ones. For instance, coin and currency listings with a value more than $2,500 must be graded by a top grading company (PCGS, NGC, ANACS, ICG). The numerical grade cannot be included in the title, description, or item description.

Click to expand the photo above. It adheres to the Proxibid policy. You’ll see a role of 1969-D cents and this title and description:

•    1969D BU Linc 1c BU Scarce UnOpened Bank Roll 50 Gems
•    "Extremely Scarce 40 year old never opened bank roll; end coins look MS66/67, huge GEM or Err/Variety potential; just look at these GEM values THOUSANDS PER COIN"

I doubt many Coin World readers would believe all of the above because they are exposed to articles about value and grading in addition to coin and currency advertisements that also have to follow the magazine’s rules for descriptions.

And yet the Proxibid title and description are true in some of its claims. You can believe the seller or my analysis (opinion):

1.    The 1969-D is not scarce; its mintage tops 4 billion.
2.    Bank rolls may look unopened, but veteran dealers and collectors know how to open them (I won't tell you here), emptying the coins, inspecting them and putting them back with a tidy re-roll of the paper.
3.    The coins here do look gem, MS65; perhaps many would grade MS66. These look red-brown, though. At MS66, that’s an $8 coin, but few people would buy it unless it had rainbow toning. These don't.
4.    At MS66 red, a 1969-D is worth about $25; at MS67, it is truly scarce with values over $1,000. In 40-plus years, PCGS has only graded 26 of them. In other words, your chances are slim.
5.    There is error/variety potential; the description is right about that, as a 1969-D can lack designer’s initials “FG” (Frank Gasparro). PCGS has graded about 50 of those, with only 19 in various grades of red, typically selling for about $250 or so at auction, according to CoinFacts.
6.    The phrase “THOUSANDS PER COIN,” well, may be an overstatement.

The point here is that sellers can promote their lots any way they wish. They have that right, as long as it adheres to the portals service terms. This example does.

So what that does that mean for you? If you bid online, you should know grading, values, condition rarities, varieties, and so much more. There are ways to do that: Read numismatic publications, attend coin shows, visit coin shops and join or found coin clubs.